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This year the pagan holiday Imbolc begins at sundown January 31 (tonight) and lasts through sundown February 1 (tomorrow). This celebration marks the approximate midpoint between Yule (Winter solstice) and Ostara (Spring equinox). The name Imbolc derives from Old Irish and relates to the beginning of lambing season, a hugely important time for agricultural societies in ancient Europe. Traditional celebrations include bonfires, feasting, music, dance, and fun because of course. Pagan holidays are some of the best parties you'll ever see. There are songs and prayers to honor Brigid, whose special day this is. Red-haired and emerald-eyed Brigid is the ancient Irish goddess of healing, smithcraft, poetry, fertility, and fire. Daughter of Dagda and Danu (some versions say, daughter of the Morrigan), Brigid personifies springtime, and was so beloved in ancient Ireland that when the Christians eventually showed up, they decided that the smart thing to do was not to stamp out Brigid and her believers, but give her a makeover to suit their purposes. Thus was created Saint Brigid, the patron saint of Ireland.
Imbolc coincides with the Christian holiday of Candlemas, and the somewhat weird American tradition of Groundhog Day. One thing they all have is common is weather divination. Meaning, if the day of the celebration is cold and wet, Spring is not far away. Fine sunny weather on the other hand indicates that Winter is not yet ready to release it's icy grip for another four weeks at least. Seems pretty counterintuitive but there it is.
If large noisy parties aren't really your thing, Imbolc can still be just as meaningful and enjoyable. For a solitary witch like me, nearly every Sabbat means a quiet and deeply personal observance. Along with prayers and a small offering for Brigid, my personal celebration will include lighting a fragrant candle and gazing meditatively into the flame. Once I reach a trance state (it usually doesn't take long) I watch and listen for what messages may come from the goddess. Listening is at least as important as speaking to any deity.
Other ways to honor the day and embrace the energies of the promise of the coming Spring can include a good old-fashioned Spring Cleaning (which I've been doing for a few days already), planning your garden for the new growing season, buying and/or starting seeds, going through your wardrobe to look over your warm weather clothes- what to keep, what to donate, what to repair, what to replace- and in general do those things that are tangible reminders that the present cold and gloom are not going to go on forever. Even though it feels like that at times. The Wheel continues to turn, Nature's cycles go on, and nothing stays the same forever.
For those who celebrate it, I wish you a beautiful, blessed Imbolc.
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